Meal Planning Helps Save Time

I don't know about you but I can't stand getting to 6 o'clock at night and asking "What are we going to have for dinner tonight?" Back when I was cooking for one, this happened all the time! I'd get home from work, not being the most inventive cook I'd find nothing in the fridge or freezer, and I had no desire whatsoever to go back out and get food. So sometimes it would be toasties, tinned soup or take away delivered. These days there are 3 of us in the house (my partner and his 9 year old daughter) and weet bix for dinner doesn't quite cut it. 
I've found that an hour or 2 of planning on a Sunday afternoon can save SO much time and hassle throughout the week. Here's how we plan meals for the week at our house.
Warning: Don't try this on an empty stomach. Thinking about all those tasty meals can make you really hungry! 

1. Look at what's on this week

Get out the calendar, diary, or iPhone and find out who's home for dinner on which nights. In our case, we have one week that we call "adult week" when my partners little girl is at her mum's. That week we can plan to try out those new recipe's, or maybe a nice spicy curry. Then the next week we try to stick to meals that are more kid friendly. Also take into account those nights that you won't be home for dinner, the busy days that you'll want to have something easy and the more relaxed days when you might have time for a roast or to try out some new adventurous recipe you've seen.

2. Go browsing in the kitchen for meal ideas

Do you already have some recipe bases in the pantry? A Dolmio's or stir-fry sauce that you can use? Is there meat in the freezer, or veges that need to be used up? Getting some ideas?

3. Decide on meals to have for the week and write it down

This is the fun part, when you get to think back to meals you've enjoyed and maybe not eaten for a while, flick through some cookbooks, websites or magazines and see if something jumps out. If I've got a few meals picked out and they all involve red meat, I'll try and think of a chicken or fish meal to keep it balanced. Make sure you've got plenty of vege's and the right foods, depending on diets in your household.
Where to write all this down? This is totally down to what will work for you. I have an app on the iPad called Menu Planner that is great for storing recipes, planning the week and creating a shopping list, but it's a bit of extra work to set it up. On those busy weeks when I don't have time to mess around (and we all have those right?), I just write all the meals in a notebook. This comes in handy also, when you can look back at the meals you had in past weeks and get more ideas.

4. Create your shopping list

Go through all the recipes that you've picked out and make a list of all the ingredients needed. Check the fridge and pantry for items that you may already have. Some pantry items like olive oil, you may already have, but just check and make sure you have enough to last you through the week. Remember to think about lunches, snacks, cleaning and toiletries etc.
Some apps, like Menu Planner mentioned above, will create a list for you. I have another great basic app called ShopShop that is great for adding items to a list as you notice that you've run out throughout the week.

6. Grocery shopping for the week

Now that you know exactly what you need, you can whip around the supermarket in way less time. Or to save even more time I've recently started using Coles online shopping. I can place my order on a Sunday afternoon or evening and my groceries arrive the next afternoon, ready for the week!
The online option doesn't suit everybody, but if you live in the delivery area and you have certain times that you know someone will be home to accept it, there are so many advantages!
  •   I can get an online shop done in about half an hour, where a trip to the supermarket would be at least an hour!
  •   The search function works really well so you can go straight to what you need, you can also sort results by price making it easy to compare and select. You can also access previous orders and re-order items easily.
  •   The fresh produce is hand picked and seems even fresher, I assume because it hasn't sat out on the shelf all day
  •   I use Coles because it's a flat $9 delivery fee where I live. Woolworths has a sliding scale, the more you order the less the delivery charge. If you're doing big shops (over $150 or so) then this could be worthwhile too, but I haven't tried it. 
So now when it comes to 6pm on a Wednesday night, there is no "what are we going to do for dinner?" It's all there in the fridge ready to go! It's one less thing to stress about. Give it a try!